Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In the dark

photo by Dave Ellison

It’s dark when we take Newton for his last walk of the day. I like to walk in the dark. We leave the house lights behind us and head up the drive way, feeling the path through our feet. Eventually, an area of paler dark appears at the edge of the woods, arched over by branches. Next the stars appear through the trees. Newton is a pale blur on the road, I locate him by the sound of his dog tags. One night last week, a coyote howled, and then a second. It sounded as if they were right outside our pasture fence.

Our sheep were all in the far pasture, the one without a top wire of barbed wire. I had just talked to a friend who lost nine lambs to coyotes. “I’ll get the head lights,” Dave said and turned back toward the house.I finished walking Newton and then headed out into the pastures. I could see Dave’s head light bobbing in the south central pasture, but I couldn’t see the sheep. I followed the fence lines down and met him at the gate. The ewes followed him, puzzled but not worried. They circled around, confused by the lights. I went wide, trying to get behind the sheep without spooking them and a few turned to follow me. This could be the beginning of a mass exodus back to the pasture from which they had just come. “Call them!” I shouted to Dave.

“Hay ewes.” The stragglers turned and followed him through the next gate. I continued on out to the far pasture, sweeping my head from side to side as I walked, trying to shed light on every section of the field, checking to make sure that no lambs or ewes had been left behind. Finally, satisfied that all the sheep had followed Dave into the barnyard, I turned around, turned off my head lamp and headed home.

Behind me in the distance, the warm glow of Pelican Rapids filled the western sky. Ahead of me, to the north, a pale patch of peach drifted in the heavens. Another patch to the east, further south than I had seen the aurora for a very long time. I stood and watched the charged particles shimmer in the sky and then begin to fade.


“Did you see it,” I shouted. “Was it the aurora?”

“I don’t know what else it could have been,” Dave said as I joined him. “It was beautiful.” We walked side by side through the barnyard , listening to the sound of sheep eating grass, smelling the ripe scent of fresh manure, and feeling the dew soak into our socks, content in the dark.

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